New GAO Report: Chemical Assessments: Challenges Remain with EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program

Chemical Assessments:  Challenges Remain with EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program. GAO-12-42, December 9.
Highlights –

Why GAO Did This Study
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program supports EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment by providing the agency’s scientific position on the potential human health effects from exposure to various chemicals in the environment. The IRIS database contains quantitative toxicity assessments of more than 550 chemicals and provides fundamental scientific components of human health risk assessments. In response to a March 2008 GAO report on the IRIS program, EPA revised its IRIS assessment process in May 2009. GAO was asked to evaluate (1) EPA’s progress in completing IRIS assessments under the May 2009 process and (2) the challenges, if any, that EPA faces in implementing the IRIS program. To do this work, GAO reviewed and analyzed EPA productivity data, among other things, and interviewed EPA officials.

What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends, among other things, that EPA assess the feasibility of the established time frames for each step in the IRIS assessment process and make changes if necessary, submit for independent review to an entity with scientific and technical credibility a plan for how EPA will implement the National Academies’ suggestions, and ensure that current and accurate information on chemicals that EPA plans to assess through IRIS is available to IRIS users. EPA agreed with GAO’s recommendations and noted specific actions it will take to implement them.

University invests in campus-wide energy efficiency upgrades

Read the full story from the University of Chicago.

In 2009, the University began conducting campus-wide energy audits as part of a new program to identify and implement energy conservation measures in campus buildings. Three quarters of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions are from building operations, which includes electricity and natural gas, so we are looking to make significant investments in new technology and retrofits that enhance efficiency of existing buildings. Thus far, energy efficiency upgrades have been completed in four buildings and, with the expectation of significant energy and monetary savings, the University is accelerating its efforts in 2012.

Criteria to Select Biochars for Field Studies based on Biochar Chemical Properties

Catherine E. Brewer, Rachel Unger, Klaus Schmidt-Rohr and Robert C. Brown (2011). “Criteria to Select Biochars for Field Studies based on Biochar Chemical Properties.” BioEnergy Research 4(4), 312-323. DOI: 10.1007/s12155-011-9133-7.

Abstract: One factor limiting the understanding and evaluation of biochar for soil amendment and carbon sequestration applications is the scarcity of long-term, large-scale field studies. Limited land, time, and material resources require that biochars for field trials be carefully selected. In this study, 17 biochars from the fast pyrolysis, slow pyrolysis, and gasification of corn stover, switchgrass, and wood were thoroughly characterized and subjected to an 8-week soil incubation as a way to select the most promising biochars for a field trial. The methods used to characterize the biochars included proximate analysis, CHNS elemental analysis, Brunauer–Emmett–Teller surface (BET) area, photo-acoustic Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and quantitative 13 C solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. The soil incubation study was used to relate biochar properties to three soil responses: pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and water leachate electrical conductivity (EC). Characterization results suggest that biochars made in a kiln process where some oxygen was present in the reaction atmosphere have properties intermediate between slow pyrolysis and gasification and therefore, should be grouped separately. A close correlation was observed between aromaticity determined by NMR and fixed carbon fraction determined by proximate analysis, suggesting that the simpler, less expensive proximate analysis method can be used to gain aromaticity information. Of the 17 biochars originally assessed, four biochars were ultimately selected for their potential to improve soil properties and to provide soil data to refine the selection scheme: corn stover low-temperature fast pyrolysis (highest amended soil CEC, information on high volatile matter/O–C ratio biochar), switchgrass O2/steam gasification (relatively high BET surface area, and amended soil pH, EC, and CEC), switchgrass slow pyrolysis (higher-amended soil pH and EC), and hardwood kiln carbonization (information on slow pyrolysis, gasification and kiln-produced differences).

Illinois Wind for Schools

The Illinois Wind for Schools program is seeking applications for the 2012-2013 school year.  Applications are due March 1, 2012, and winners will be announced by April 2, 2012. Visit  to access the application. The program is designed to incorporate wind energy topics into middle and high school classrooms. All training, curriculum and equipment will be offered at no charge to schools selected for the program.

The Sacketts and the Clean Water Act

Read the New York Times editorial.

Chantell and Michael Sackett’s case against the Environmental Protection Agency before the Supreme Court on Monday might appear to be David versus Goliath. But those supporting the Sacketts with friend-of-the-court briefs are corporate Goliaths like General Electric and real estate developers eager to weaken the E.P.A.’s ability to protect wetlands and waterways under the federal Clean Water Act.

Advice for MBAs Aspiring to Be Sustainability Leaders

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

To be competitive after graduation, MBAs must possess the right combination of business savvy, hands-on experience and passion needed to grow company profits by leveraging sustainable strategies.

How to Become a Social Intrapreneur

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

Editor’s Note: This article kicks off a planned seven-week series by Nathan Springer that will chronicle in-depth the lessons from a course at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business on how to become a social intrapreneur — someone who makes change for good from within the enterprise.

The fabled triple-bottom-line business is the epic quest of our profession. In the hallways of conferences, sustainability professionals gather around the coffee tables to tell legends of companies like Interface, Nike, and Walmart and the many others that have set out on this journey.

Many have heard the tale of Ray Anderson, who discovered Paul Hawkins’ manuscript The Ecology of Commerce and carried his entire company toward the summit of Mt. Sustainability guided by sages Hunter Lovins, Amory Lovins, and Hawkins himself.

When the euphoria fades, most people return to the reality of Monday morning full of doubts and questions about whether they could take their company to the heroic heights of sustainable business.

Now, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan have invited me to follow a class on Social Intrapreneurship that aims to arm MBA students with the tools to do just that.